Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay Helping Ravens' Passing Attack 'Put the Fear of God in People'
When the Ravens traded Marquise "Hollywood" Brown" on draft night, it was widely assumed they would acquire a veteran wide receiver before the start of the regular season. Meanwhile, the team repeatedly expressed confidence in its young wide receivers.
Through the first three games of the season, Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay have shown why the organization believed in them.
While All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews remains the Ravens' go-to pass-catcher, Bateman and Duvernay have played significant roles in Lamar Jackson's blistering start to the season.
"What we haven't seen [before this season] is a Ravens passing attack that actually put the fear of God in people," ESPN's MIna Kimes said. "It's a lot of things going on. I would say Rashod Bateman taking another step. I think Devin Duvernay has been very good this year, shockingly. And then, of course, Mark Andrews. And then all of a sudden you're like, wait, there's a decent group of pass-catchers in Baltimore.
"And [Offensive Coordinator] Greg Roman is finding ways to get them open. And I think Lamar is making tight-window throws and doing all the things you want him to do. But I think the combination of his own improvement with the improvement of his circumstances is pretty exciting if you're a Ravens fan."
Bateman, a 2021 first-round pick, is on pace for 1,280 yards receiving. He's fourth in the league among wide receivers in yards after the catch (119), and his 75-yard touchdown reception in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins is the longest in the league this season.
While Bateman making a leap in Year 2 isn't surprising, not many outside of Baltimore —to Kimes' point — predicted Duvernay, an All-Pro return specialist, to be the dangerous weapon he has become in the passing game. The 2020 third-round pick has emerged as a red zone threat, as he is tied for second in the league with three touchdown catches. That's one more touchdown grab than he entered the season with.
One of the highlights of this past Sunday's win over the New England Patriots was Duvernay's spectacular touchdown reception over defensive back Myles Bryant in the back of the end zone.
"I have to admit what has surprised me the most is [Jackson] has people making plays for him, which is something I'm not accustomed to seeing from anyone other than Mark Andrews on occasion will make a wild, one-handed catch," ESPN's Domonique Foxworth said. "Rashod Bateman in all the games so far… he gets open and then gets deep down the field, yards after the catch. And then Duvernay, who I think we just kind of thought of as a special teams guy, turned out to be a really good receiver in tracking the ball. Yeah, he's a good receiver."
ESPN Analytics Rank Mark Andrews As No. 1 Pass-Catcher in the NFL
While Bateman and Duvernay have stepped up this season, Andrews continues to show why he is such a special player.
ESPN unveiled its new Receiver Tracking Metrics (RTMs) on Wednesday, which are designed to isolate receivers' play as much as possible. Those metrics, which are based on games played in 2021-2022 (including the postseason), indicate that Andrews is the No. 1 receiver in the league.
"Mark Andrews' exceptional ability to get open and come down with contested catches is what makes him an elite pass-catcher, not just a great tight end," ESPN Analytics' Seth Walder wrote. "That's true despite the fact the Ravens tight end's ability to generate yards after catch relative to expectations is just average."
Walder said the metrics support the case for Andrews, not seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro Travis Kelce, being the top tight end in the game.
"Both Andrews and Kelce (Chiefs) have excelled at getting open over the past two seasons; Andrews posted an 87 Open Score, while Kelce had an 81. Those are the top two Open Scores among tight ends in that span and both rank in the top 10 among all pass-catchers," Walder wrote. "The difference between their overall scores — Andrews at 85, Kelce at 70 — is in their Catch Scores, where Andrews has a 74 and Kelce a 43. … Since the start of 2021, Andrews and Kelce both have 71% catch rates but Andrews' have come on targets that average 10.5 air yards, while Kelce's have averaged just 7.8."
Sunday's Ravens-Bills Game Profiles As a 'Modern NFL Air Show'
The Ravens lead the NFL in scoring, and they've done it by becoming a pass-first offense for the first time since Jackson became the starter midway through the 2018 season.
"Entering Sunday's showdown with the Super Bowl favorite Buffalo Bills, the Ravens' offensive efficiency has become as remarkable as their inverted approach," The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote. "A run-first team has become a pass-first team, turning early downs into big-play opportunities and showcasing Jackson's improvements as one of the NFL's most well-rounded quarterbacks."
Shaffer noted that defenses committing to stopping the Ravens' run game have opened throwing lanes for the much-improved passing attack.
"According to the play index site nflfastR, the Ravens are averaging 10 yards on first-down pass plays (including scrambles) and 7.1 yards on second-down pass plays," Shaffer wrote. "Buffalo is averaging 6.5 yards and 7.1 yards, respectively, in those situations.
"[The Ravens'] matchup against Buffalo now profiles less as an old-school-versus-new-school battle and more as a modern NFL air show; the Bills, led by star quarterback Josh Allen, rank second in early-down pass rate (68.1%), behind only the Kansas City Chiefs (69.5%)."
Lamar Jackson Not in Top Two in NFL.com Quarterback Rankings
Jackson leads the league in touchdown passes, total touchdowns, and quarterback rating, and arguably is the MVP front-runner. Yet he is just No. 3 in NFL.com’s Marc Sessler’s weekly quarterback rankings.
Jackson, who moved up one spot from last week's rankings, sits behind Allen and the Philadelphia Eagles' Jalen Hurts. Both Allen and Hurts have been outstanding this season, but Jackson has been on another level. His start to this season is hotter than his start in 2019, when he became just the second unanimous MVP in NFL history.
"All alone in Tier 1, the best quarterback in the NFL this year, is Lamar Jackson," Max Kellerman said on ESPN. "I dare you to say something about that."